First: A copy shop on my left, its name printed twice on the awning: Copy Shop Copy Shop. A joke? On the right there’s a bank from some mysterious Arab nation, windows shuttered. A police car idles in the middle of the intersection for no apparent reason. In a high right window, over the bank, a man talks on the telephone, peeling back the curtain to look at the police car. I look up at him, but quickly look away. The people aren’t the issue. This is about the corners.
Second: On my left, a drugstore and Italian deli and mini-market. I have shopped there; once I bought Vitamin C lozenges. “Of course we have them,” the man said when I asked. “We are an all-purpose store.” On my right, there’s a rug store.
Third: A vacant building occupies the whole left corner. It used to be some kind of industrial facility. The name is gone now, but its ghost remains, hovering over the ghost of what looks like a badly beaten General Electric district. On my right, there’s another rug store. Maybe I’m in some kind of district. In front of the rug store, an attractive woman in a black skirt and black boots drops what appears to be a lottery ticket and watches calmly as it blows down the street. Maybe she’s playing the odds.
Fourth:* Rug stores on left and right corner both. Definitely a district. The one on the left is covered by scaffolding, which obscures some of the rugs in the window. This is probably a source of consternation to the owners, since their competition to the right has no scaffolding.
Fifth: Delicatessen to the left. On the right there’s an building whose identity is hidden at first, mostly because the new plum-colored awning hasn’t yet been painted. The windows solve the mystery: it’s a men’s wear store, with suits, belts, shoes on display. Why do they always drape ties over driftwood?
Sixth: Fast food on the left, and a knot of teenagers out on the sidewalk in front of the place. They’re jabbering loudly in shattered Spanish, jodering each other into submission. I ignore them, because I’m ignoring all the people. The corners are the story. On the right, there’s a gallery of gems that has an illustration of a rocket-ship on the glass door. Are all of their gems moon rocks? Are any of them?
Seventh: I blame the teenagers, in part, and the woman coming toward me with a tight dress, in part, but as I approach the seventh corner I start to notice people again. There’s a man wearing an old-fashioned bowler and an old-fashioned mustache. There’s a tiny, perfectly proportioned woman. Then there are three women who come at me in series, one after the other, who I think of as the triplets. They don’t look the same as one another, obviously, but they do look similar, all middle-aged, all broad in the hips, all blonde with flat features and bulky coats. Red, white, blue: those are the colors of the coats, like a flag created by committee. I’m thinking about the women, these middle-aged women with broad hips and bulky coats, and evidently I’m thinking about them too hard, because I don’t notice the seventh corner as I go by. Never mind that my only mission was to take stock of the corner shops. I forget to look. So I turn around while I’m walking, twist back to see what I have missed. On the left is an upscale furniture store. On the right is a church. I twist further, trying to determine the denomination of the church, and that’s when my feet go to battle with each other and I fall. I lay there, not yet aware that I have scraped my elbow and my knees. I lay there thinking. I know that I won’t be able to regain my composure, that Zen where I’m just filtering the buildings. It was waning when I saw the teenagers. That’s why I made the mistake of looking at the people instead of the buildings, which led to the mistake of turning back, which led to the mistake of falling. The awkward corkscrew twist. The marked-for-death-tree fall. I don’t mean to say that I think through this in a slow, deliberate manner. All of this flashes through me in seconds. And then it happens, just as I know it will. The Zen shatters absolutely. I suddenly become preoccupied with my own pain. Tears well up in my eyes, which I close. Five seconds later, when I open them, I see a pair of black swingback pumps. I know that’s what they’re called because I once had a girlfriend who tried to make me memorize all the different kinds of shoes. I got as far as mules and slingblack pumps. These black ones are connected to a pair of legs that at first I think are young legs. Then my gaze travels up and I see that they belong to a matronly woman. She is thick in the hips, where her skirt is stretched across her body. She, too, has the same flat blonde features as the women I saw coming down the street. “Are you all right?” she says in a voice that is just as flat and blonde. Her coat is red, white, and blu